Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party had its worst result in more than half a century in the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein after an election that put the Social Democrats within reach of forming a coalition.
The result, in which the weakness of Merkel’s federal coalition partner once more hobbled her party’s ability to build a government, sets the tone for a bigger contest on May 13 in North Rhine-Westphalia. While polls suggest the SPD, the main opposition party nationally, will retain Germany’s most populous state, Merkel won’t be swayed by the party’s success at regional level to heed its national calls to spend more to end Europe’s debt crisis, said Manfred Guellner of pollster Forsa.
“The pendulum of support can go one way in the regions and another in national government, we’ve seen it often enough,” Guellner said in a telephone interview. “German policy in managing this crisis is made in Berlin and not in Schleswig-Holstein or North-Rhine Westphalia.”
The ballot in the northernmost of Germany’s 16 states was overshadowed by the election as French president of Socialist candidate Francois Hollande, an SPD ally, who has said he will press Merkel to reopen Europe’s budget treaty to add measures to spur growth. Anti-bailout parties meanwhile gained in Greece’s vote, casting doubt over the country’s adherence to the terms of its international rescue.
While the chancellor’s Christian Democratic Union took 30.8 percent in Schleswig-Holstein to place first yesterday, that was its lowest share of the vote since 1950. Her Free Democratic Party coalition partner slumped to 8.2 percent, almost half its score at the last ballot in 2009 and not enough for a rerun of their CDU-FDP coalition, preliminary results showed.
The Social Democrats, with 30.4 percent, may have the better chance of forming a government amid four possible coalition constellations. SPD officials said the party will attempt to form a government with its traditional Green Party ally, which came third with 13.2 percent, and the SSW Danish minority party, which took 4.6 percent and doesn’t need to meet the 5 percent threshold to win seats in the state capital Kiel.
“If it’s possible, we’ll try it,” said Torsten Albig, the SPD’s lead candidate in the state and a former chief spokesman in the federal Finance Ministry under Peer Steinbrueck. “We had hoped for a more stable majority,” he said. “But a majority is a majority.”
Merkel made six campaign appearances in Schleswig-Holstein in recent weeks, bringing her message of fiscal discipline to the region wedged between the North and the Baltic Seas. The CDU has held power in the country’s northernmost region since 2005, the year Merkel became chancellor.
Even though the FDP lost support compared with the previous state election in September 2009, the party defied predictions that it would struggle to meet the threshold to retain its position in state parliament. That may grant a respite to party leader Philipp Roesler, the federal economy minister, amid a Spiegel magazine report today that some in the party are working to replace him before next year’s national election.
The Schleswig-Holstein election also underscored the strength of the Pirate Party, which took 8.2 percent to enter its third state parliament after Berlin and Saarland. The Left Party took 2.2 percent and failed to gain seats.
For Merkel, the loss of another region ruled by the parties in her coalition further undermines her influence in the federal upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat, where states are represented. That may make her more likely to accede to SPD calls for more measures to boost economic growth, said Eckart Tuchtfeld, an economist at Commerzbank AG in Frankfurt.
After losing Schleswig-Holstein’s four votes, Merkel can rely on just 21 of 69 votes in the Bundesrat, he said in a note today. While the opposition has so far backed her crisis-fighting measures in parliament, she needs 35 votes to pass most important economic policy legislation, and therefore the need to “enter compromises” has increased.
“This supports the view that in the process of stabilizing the monetary union, growth-oriented measures will gain more weight over budget consolidation in future,” he said.